Coming to Vegas: Looking Back, and Ahead

August 26, 2018

LAS VEGAS, Nev.: Made it to Vegas late Saturday afternoon, in time for our 40th wedding anniversary (today), 2,820 miles from home. This trip has been our anniversary gift to ourselves.

We left the Flagstaff KOA and with 250 miles to go to Vegas, took the time for a side trip to Sedona, a hair-raising ride of steep descents in the Coconino National Forest on U.S. 89, scary but spectacularly beautiful. We walked the tourist strip and took pictures, then headed back to Flagstaff the long way on I-17, avoiding the return climb up the mountain.

We battled through gridlock in Flagstaff back to 66 and headed west, stopping in Williams, which is full of railroad and logging history, but now a tourist gateway to the Grand Canyon. Predictably, it’s full of tourists. Unlike in so many other stops along 66, the hotels here that once catered to long-distance travelers have been rescued by the big chains, Rodeway, Holiday Inn, La Quinta, to accommodate Grand Canyon visitors. The old bars and gas stations are now cute restaurants and souvenir shops.

The idea now was to make it to Vegas and rendezvous with daughter Kathleen, who’s studying nursing here. We made our final 66 stop in Seligman Ariz., got ice cream at Angel Delgadillo’s Sno-Cone Drive-In and stopped by his souvenir shop.


After visiting every state through which 66 passes except California, we said goodbye to the Mother Road and hit I-40 for Kingman, expecting an easy ride into Vegas on U.S. 95. Unfortunately, we were alerted that it was closed at Hoover Dam, forcing about a 40-mile detour, due west to Bullhead City, then 60 or so miles through empty 100-degree desert.

We straggled up the sun-blasted Strip looking for a reasonably priced restaurant, then collapsed in our hotel room. But we talked about the start of all those anniversaries—a steaming day at St. Mary’s Church in Nashville, the oldest Catholic church in the city and one of the few buildings not burned to the ground by Union forces in December 1864.

And we talked about the years that followed, the first three kids coming along, the crazy move to New Jersey for exactly one year (1986), when we welcomed Kathleen, our Jersey girl, just as the Army contract I was on fell apart and I made a sharp turn into the publishing business and we ended up in Virginia.

Lots of great adventures, in a great 40 years


As we slogged across America, we were prompted to look back at those experiences, and find some context for where we’ve been and what we’ve done the past week. You may fly back and forth across the country for business or family connections, as we’ve done often over the years. Driving it, stepping out of the car and looking around, shopping in local stores, sleeping in a tent and second-rate motels—even for just a week—teaches you volumes more about the country. It teaches something about places distant from your own and gives you at least a cursory glimpse at the conditions and circumstances of those places, which affect the lives of the people who live in them. And you can’t help but take those glimpses and insights with you and try to offer them to others.

We fly back home tomorrow to attend to some medical things, leaving the van with Kathleen here in Vegas. We’re suspending posting to the blog for a while, until we can fly back out here, get the van, and pick up where we left off on our ride around America. Hope you’ll be back with us!



Pre-Anniversary Laundry, then Flagstaff

August 23, 2018

FLAGSTAFF Ariz. : We finished doing laundry Thursday evening. The Monterey Motel had a laundry room opposite ours, so we got a bunch of quarters and washed and dried clothes, the way we did before we got married. We sat waiting for the dryer to finish on a bench in the parking lot, as the evening faded, talking about pre-celebrating our 40th wedding anniversary (which is Sunday) by washing clothes. Strange, but fun.

As it happened the dryer didn’t completely dry the stuff, so we festooned every flat surface in the motel room with damp clothes and turned the air conditioner up for the night.

This morning we had a nice break from the just-the-two-of-us week. Our former Lake Ridge next-door neighbors, Ernie and Juanita, had moved to Albuquerque 12 years ago. We’ve kept in touch, and were able to connect with them for a relaxing, get-caught-up breakfast before hitting the road.

As we headed out on I-40W again, looking for a spot to pick up 66, we both sensed that the trip was sorting itself out—it now had been a full week since we drove into West Virginia for the start of all this. Eight states in seven days, plus brief brushes with Maryland and Kentucky. A rush of adventures in each one. Why didn’t we do this years ago?

We shifted from the interstate to 66 a few miles out and drove through pretty country, along sharp turns to Laguna, where the two lanes stretch out through craggy hills and thick scrub. Not much to see at Paraje, the next town. Budville, farther along, is the site of the Budville Gas Station, established by H.N. “Bud” Rice and his wife Flossie in 1928. We read that most cars that broke down from Albuquerque to Grants were towed there. The station was robbed in 1967 and Bud was murdered, but Flossie kept it going until the late 1970s. It’s still standing, boarded up and overgrown.

We then drove through Grants, a larger town that like so many others housed dozens of shut-down motels and service stations. Why are they still there, you wonder, decades after closing. The simple answer is: because they tell us something about the history of the community, the region, the people who lived there and those who passed through. Something about America.

We made one more stop on 66, at the El Rancho Hotel in Gallup, nearly at the Arizona state line. The El Rancho was founded by D.W. Griffith’s brother, Joe Massaglia, in the late 1930s as a fun spot for movie stars: Hepburn, Wayne, Douglas, Bogart, Jane Wyman, Mae West, and more. Their photos line the walls. We picked up souvenirs for the grandsons and headed out.

Arizona starts you with a barrage of “Indian Trading Posts.” Nothing much to see on 66 here. We were pressed for time but stopped at the Petrified Forest National Park, with a gift shop and café, but lacking a forest, as far as we could see. Next problem: with lightening flashing on the horizon, camping in a state park seemed like a bad idea. Hotels in Flagstaff are expensive. But the sun came out again, and when our phones worked I tried to find a KOA. We hit 66 again to see the “largest ponderosa pine forest in the world” although we’re not sure what one looks like. Where we’d sleep looked like a problem, but Sandy turned the van out of the forest: the KOA was right in front of us.  “Oh my God, it’s right here!” she yelled. We got a site, cooked dinner, and bundled up against a chilly night.



Into Albuquerque

August 23, 2018

ALBUQUERQUE, New Mex.: At the edge of Texas, we were looking at nearly 1,000 miles to Las Vegas, after having driven nearly 1,600 from home.  We got an early start from Shamrock on what turned out to be a very strange day. First big target was Amarillo, about halfway across the image0000001.jpgTexas Panhandle. We stayed on I-40 for a while but couldn’t resist turning back onto 66 to gawk at the Leaning Water Tower in Groom, which looks about to topple over, but was built that way. Then we had to see the VW Slug Bug Ranch in Conway, where five graffiti-covered 1960s Volkswagen Beetles are buried halfway up to their windshields. Unfortunately we then missed the on-ramp for 40W and went 40E instead for a total backtrack of 24 miles.

The next screw-up was all mine, as we drove through Amarillo looking for the Cadillac Ranch, a Route 66 classic at which 10 vintage Cadillacs, like the Beetles, are buried at 45-20180824_075201.jpgdegree angles and, like the VWs, are covered with years-old graffiti.

I was pushing along I-40 looking for the Ranch and never noticed the cars, which are about 200 yards from the highway. We realized we had overshot the Ranch but still wanted to see the cars. We turned around, drove 10 miles back and found them—underwhelming, but weird. We spray-painted our names in the sun-baked clay.


We barreled down 40 towards New Mexico, the land flattening out, the sun blazing, temperature rising. At isolated Glenrio, astride the border, New Mexico maintains a massive welcome center—a library of magazines and brochures. We were looking to camp again, but the only state parks near the interstate were either too far away, near Gallup, or would mean stopping too early (Santa Rosa).

I shifted back to 66 at Tucumcari. We were stunned at the vivid evidence of decades of business decline along the highway, which is also Main Street: block after block of shut-down motels, gas stations, theaters, markets, burned-out, collapsed, overgrown with weeds and scrub, cracked concrete driveways, smashed vehicles. All this made entrepreneurs and big companies rich in the 1930s and 1940s. Then it all faded away.

By mid-afternoon the plan to camp out fell apart. We settled on Albuquerque, which would mean almost 500 miles for the day. Our guide book mentioned the El Vado Motel on 66 downtown, I called to get a reservation. We poured on the miles, and slogged into the city through rush hour. At the office the clerk advised that we actually were at the Monterey Motel down the street. “That’s the line you called,” she said. That’s OK, we’ll stay anywhere after today. The entire block was 1940s art deco. Eerie, glitzy, exhausting, but fun.

After relaxing briefly, we went to a local brewery and danced to some oldies on the radio before turning in.


Into the Hot Country

August 22, 2018

SHAMROCK, Tex.:  Oklahoma is the state where Route 66 is said to come alive. We got an early start from Twin Bridges and picked up the Mother Road a few miles north of Miami. At that point, you’re driving at 65 mph through empty prairie, with I-44 in the distance, busy with rush-hour drivers, going I’m not sure where. In Vinita, about 20 miles on, we stopped for a quick breakfast at Clanton’s Café, said to be the oldest continuously owned family restaurant in Oklahoma. Most of the patrons were older than us and the staff much younger, a consistent trend on Rte. 66. We then gassed up at $2.47/gallon and picked up another long empty stretch, making good time, while dark clouds out to the horizon threatened rain. It held off, though. As we slogged west we noticed the temperature rise, the humidity diminish.

We passed through a blur of small towns with little to offer, but couldn’t resist stopping to gawk at the Blue Whale in Catoosa, just east of Tulsa. The whale, about 60 feet long and painted light blue, extends into a pond of about an acre, shaped from concrete by the builder, Hugh Davis, in 1972. He intended it as an amusement for kids who swam in the pond.

image0000001.jpgI said hello to a man doing yard work, who turned out to be Mr. Davis’ son. He said that no one swims there any more, but people still fish for perch and bass. He advised us to avoid downtown Tulsa traffic by taking I-44 around the city—great advice.

We steered back onto 66 to get lunch at Rock’s Café in Stroud, run by a woman named Dawn Welch, who is said to be the inspiration for the character Sally Carrera in the Pixar movie, “Cars.” Comfortable, casual, and cheap, it was patronized by a crowd of Harley drivers when we got there. Would love to go back.

We then detoured back on the interstate to Oklahoma City. Sandy wanted to stop at the new CACI Inc., facility (see first installment of this blog), to say hello to a former co-worker, a young man who stayed with the company by taking a job at the new Oklahoma City site—a brick-and-glass behemoth of a building several football fields long—think an Amazon or Walmart distribution center—in an industrial park south of Oklahoma City.

We tramped inside where a security functionary grudgingly called Sandy’s friend. He came down and with difficulty persuaded the functionary to give us visitor’s passes. We walked through several corridors into a cavernous room where dozens of people sat at long tables staring at monitors, doing accounting tasks. Made both of us shiver.

We almost ran to the van and blasted out of Oklahoma City, suspending the Rte 66 tour to make miles out of Oklahoma on the interstate, watching the environment change from image0000001.jpgsuburban-industrial to prairie to flat scrub shimmering in the Oklahoma August afternoon.  In 90 minutes we crossed into Texas, then steered back on 66 and into Shamrock, an isolated, dusty, yet friendly and comfortable place. Got a nice room at the Western Inn, across from the U-Drop Inn and next to Big Vern’s Steakhouse, where we got a simple but delicious dinner. Our first and probably last night in Texas.



Watch out, Paddlefish!

August 22, 2018

MIAMI, Okla.: Only in Oklahoma, as far as I know, do they snag paddlefish.

We arrived at the Oklahoma Visitor’s Center on I-44 in mid-afternoon, after a long august-21-2-e1534995890749.jpgmorning on U.S. 66 through Missouri, the “Cave State” as well as the Show-Me State: breakfast at Shelly’s Route 66 Café in Cuba, a stop at the World’s Largest Rocking Chair in Fanning, and a glance at the Munger Moss Motel in Lebanon. Lots of other attractions to be seen, but interrupted by long stretches of road through quiet fields and forests, then traffic-clogged commercial stretches, then quiet subdivisions. The highway parallels I-44, back and forth, like an extended boundary road curling along the interstate. Around Rolla, in the interest of time, we jumped on I-44 for 50 or so miles, then went back to 66. After a wrong turn in Springfield we stayed on the interstate to Joplin and then across into the “OK” state.

The sun was blazing and we were tired of the road, so we found Twin Bridges State Park in Miami, just off the Quapaw Reservation, which sits astride the Oklahoma-Missouri border. We set up camp and took a walk to the lake, fed by Spring River, a murky brown fast-moving stream and, we learn, prime waters for snagging paddlefish. Didn’t see anyone actually doing it, but from the announcement of strict rules, learned that a paddlefish is a heavy slow-moving fish sporting a long flat paddle-like blade on its upper jaw that grows to enormous sizes around here. People come to the lake to “snag” them, that is, catch them without rod and reel. One per customer, and an ordinary fishing license isn’t good enough. You also need a paddlefish permit.

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We grilled ourselves a nice salmon and chicken dinner, garnished by lots of the veggies we picked up at the Walmart in Flora yesterday. Everything is green and lush and quiet, undercutting the stereotype of Oklahoma as a dust bowl pocked with oil rigs. None of that here. But a long, long way to go in Sooner country, channeling Glenn Campbell, I guess. We’ll hit 66 again early.